After looking at products and different setups for a media server, I've finally embarked on the second attempt to make ti happen. My original attempt included trying to run Windows Media Center Edition 2005 with a Windows Server 2003 virtual machine. This ended in disaster, which forced me to dump MCE 2005 and instead run everything of Windows Server 2003. I've been able to hobble along--mostly--but had never been that satisfied. I miss being able to time shift my TV and have a so called '10 Foot Interface' for watching all my media. I've been on the lookout ever since and scheming what I could do.
This longing for digital entertainment ended yesterday after a lot of research with the purchase of a Netgear EVA8000 Digital Entertainer HD. I haven't actually taken it for a spin (still in transit) but here are the reasons that I got it.
1. Disc-less DVD
During the early advent of the DVD, my parents purchased a DVD jukebox for their ever expanding DVD collection, the number one reason being that they didn't want 8 kids worth of fingerprints, scratches, and PB & J sandwiches smeared all over them. Put them in the jukebox, pack the DVDs away, and the family gets to enjoy the investment without the risk of damage.
I like this idea, but it also means that the only place to watch the DVD is where the TV to which the jukebox is hooked up. What I want is to have a central server from which any number of 'clients' can watch a DVD from anywhere in the house. This means that if my wife and I want to watch a movie in the bedroom while the kids watch something in the family room, we both to get to watch what we want while not having to compromise the security of the disc.
So, what the the EVA8000 does is stream video and music from a host machine (or USB drive) and watch to the TV it is hooked up to. What this means is that if I have one of these boxes hooked up to each of my TVs and my DVD collection is ripped to my server, I can accomplish all of that. I get the benefits of the jukebox, plus the multiplicity of being able to watch the same content in many location.
2. Platform independent DVR
The EVA8000 is able to take advantage of an existing TV tuner and schedule, time shift, etc, without having to use any additional software. This also means that I don't have to dork around with Microsoft's proprietary MPEG-2 files when I record a show. This is a feature that I think my wife will enjoy. Currently, she has to record a show, use a special converter to change the file format to an open standard, and then burn it to DVD. Now, she can cut out the conversion and burn it to disc.
3. Wide range of Audio and VIdeo format support
Finding a device that has support for MPEG 1,2,4 H.264, DivX, DVD etc. is extremely rare. AppleTV was my first choice when I started hunting for digital entertainment devices, but the mere fact that I would be entirely dependent on iTunes was a quick turnoff. iTunes support for other formats is quite narrow, so I would end up having to go through a lengthy conversion process to import all of my DVDs. While the EVA8000 doesn't have full DVD support through an ISO dump of a DVD, it has pretty good access through an IFO dump. This means that I can take a quick disc dump of my DVD and it's ready to be shared across from my network. Definite plus! While I don't have an HD TV nor have any HD videos, the EVA8000 has the ability to play 1080p content without any hitches.
4. Price/Quality/Functionality Sweet Spot
Let's face it, if I really wanted to do all these things I could coble a computer together and be able to throw MythTV or some other Linux media center OS on it and do a lot if not more than all the things the EVA8000 can do. The problem with this is that Linux is only free if your time is worthless and you're pretty much restricting the box to a clumsy keyboard/mouse interface with limited remote control support. Not to mention that it would take a pretty pricey/noisy/ugly machine to do all the things that the EVA8000 can do.
So for what you pay, you get a descent looking set top box and all the mess of organizing media and controlling it are through a really nice looking interface. For the money, it's a fantastic deal.
So, for those reasons and more, I'm taking this route. I hope not to be disappointed. Should this device prove to be what I'm looking for the next phase will be to build a 2 TB (yes, that two terabytes as in 2,000 GB!) RAID 5 array. This will provide the disk space I will need to rip my DVD collection, as well as a store for files that need to be protected in case of a hard drive crash.
The other component that I've purchased is a gigabit switch so that I can disseminate those 1s and 0s across my network. If I were to go with RAID 5 right now the bandwidth on my network would be pretty saturated, so being able to transfer a lot of information at high speed is especially important. I hooked that puppy up and increased the jumbo frame size on my NICs from 1500 to 4500 and saw the transfer speed practically shoot through the roof. The model I picked up was a Netgear 108gs.
No, I'm not a Netgear shill, I just happen to like their equipment. I've had one of their 10/100 switches (on 24/7/365) for nigh unto 4 years without a hitch, so I reward reliability with loyalty. Anyway, I'll post back with a full review of the EVA8000 just as soon as it arrives!